May Newburger remembered by family, colleagues

Peter Newburger, son of May becomes emotional during

Peter Newburger, son of May becomes emotional during a memorial service for May Newburger, former North Hempstead Supervisor, advocate for women's rights and bigtime environmentalist held at the Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington. (October 7, 2012) Photo by Steve Pfost (Credit: Steve Pfost)

At the Harbor Links Golf Course and Club House she helped create on the grounds of a former sand mine, family, friends, co-workers and many others gathered in Port Washington Sunday to honor May Newburger.

The former Town of North Hempstead supervisor and state Assembly member died Aug. 30 of cancer, leaving a legacy of protecting the environment, advocating for women's equality, fighting for civil rights and fiscal responsibility. Newburger, of Great Neck, was 92.

"She was an icon, a leader, a mother, and a woman of great substance and integrity," North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman said during a three-hour reception and memorial service.

As photographs chronicling her years as an activist and politician played on a screen, those whose lives Newburger touched spoke fondly of her. "Her life was all about people and giving and extending herself to those around her," son Peter Newburger said.

The service was both poignant and funny, with speakers taking on different themes. There was May the mother and neighbor, May the advocate and activist, May the political icon and May the mentor and friend.

"If May said you could and you would, you did," friend Naomi Feldheim said.

There was also May the horribly bad driver (hands raised when the crowd was queried if they ever feared for their lives when she was at the wheel).

Newburger was born in Springfield, Mass., in 1920, lived in Cuba for a time and graduated from Hunter College in Manhattan at 18.

She became an activist, speaking against the Vietnam War, marching on Washington for civil rights and helping arrange for the Rev. Martin Luther King. Jr. to speak in Great Neck. She ran unsuccessfully for a State Senate seat in 1976.

But two years later, she won an Assembly seat and held that spot until 1986. In 1992, she became a town board member and then served as supervisor from 1994 to 2003.

She fought to protect Long Island's aquifers, shatter the glass ceiling for women and improve children's access to education.

"She didn't merely believe that government could be a force for good, she lived that each and every day," said Arthur Gianelli, president and chief executive of NuHealth System, who worked as her deputy in town hall.

A bit impatient and at times hotheaded, Newburger was known for her quick wit, humor and compassion. Invitations to her Christmas parties were coveted. And, despite her busy life, she always had time for others, neighbor Pauli Wertheim said.

Wertheim got engaged after her mother died, and it was Newburger who helped choose a dress. "There are certain things in life you need a mother for," she said. "If I couldn't have her there, I was certainly lucky to have May."

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